You’re not the only one with mixed emotions, you’re not the only ship adrift in the ocean.
I remember this was the Rolling Stones song we listened to on the first crossing I did with Tres Hombres seven years ago. And I’m listening to it again now. Fighting our way to the Channel entrance. The last days were cold days, winds from the North East and sailing full-on by. It seems we may not be allowed to sail back home, but do we really want to sail back home? How are we gonna find Europe? Mixed Emotions.
Six years of sailing around the Atlantic and nearly home again. This time for the first time being captain. All the different captains I was sailing with coming up in my head when I stare over the ocean. What did I learn from who and what do I do with this now?
Some things come up: first sailing together on a Tjalk with Jaap in the Zeeland delta: Always try to keep the ship as close to the wind as possible, falling off you can always do later. After hoisting the leeboards hundreds of times it was time for countless hours behind the helm. Learning how to sail on strong currents in the Oosterschelde.
Later when I first stepped on board on the Tres Hombres in Portugal my first skipper was Lammert: The ocean has many ways to show her size (sometimes it’s hell, sometimes it’s paradise). The love for the ocean was born in the very first week of this Atlantic round trip.
After that year I was sailing with Andreas: how to keep the ship in perfect shape, a good combination of hard work and having parties in the harbours.
Next thing I remember: sitting with Francois a few years later in Boca Chica looking at the weather forecast above the North Atlantic: Depression after depression made our computer screen red. The only thing he said: That will go fast.
From Harry on the Morgenster: you can talk forever about the weather but in the end, you can not change anything about it.
Later I learned from Fosse on the Wylde Swan how to sail proudly backwards in a parade, and remember: a life full of adventure gets also boring after a while (altijd avontuur wordt ook maar een sleur).
Just some things from years and years sailing around. And now I have to do it on my own. Now Bob Dylan’s singing: Jeah How does it feel, like a Rolling Stone?
But not without a home: we are sailing home and even the eastern winds will not prevent us to come back.
On the 16th of February in Santa Marta, Colombia I stepped into a whole new world called sailing. Everything was new to me. Living with people you don’t know on a boat, ropes, sails, climbing, sailing terms.
After preparing the boat we went to Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. In these 9 days, I was getting a little used to all this stuff. But new stuff came up.
Getting dressed and undressed on a constantly moving floor, seeing your bowl of food sliding on the table, walking like a drunk man on deck. Going to the top of the mast is also a whole different ballgame in the waves.
Getting used to the watches. Pulling ropes when it has to be done quickly. In Boca Chica, we prepared ourselves for a long journey, probably (we know for sure now) not stopping in Horta, Azores but directly going to Amsterdam, Holland. After loading the barrels of rum and putting bags of cacao in every corner of the boat and putting love into the boat that has to bring us safely to the other side of the ocean, we left. Again a whole new thing for me, the big relentless Atlantic Ocean. The first days were a good introduction to the ocean. Banging into the waves. Getting almost lifted up from the bed while sleeping. Seeing the 25-meter long mast and her sails moving like grass in the wind while the moon is shining on the sea, gave me such a happy feeling. The boat moving up and down in 5 meter big waves, made me feel like a child again. Climbing in top of the mast while getting swung around, makes me feel alive. Even doing dishes is an adventure. Taking care of all parts of the boat, makes you realize how much things are going on. Countless meters of ropes, blocks, sails and so much more. The good food, laughing, stories under the stars every night, living so close together with 13 other people, the whole idea of a cargo ship without an engine, the sunrises and sunsets, the fight against the elements all the time and the fact that you can’t go anywhere makes the Tres Hombres such a special place to be. After almost 3 weeks on the open sea, I think I understand why people saying this is a life-changing experience and I am more than happy to have this experience!
Tug; tack, tack, (accidental tack and gybe), tack, tack, tack, tack, etc.
Like Tres Hombres’ mission, we sail backwards to go forwards
Learning from the past, bracing and making fast
14 days of full-on by, Starling satellites sail through the night sky
Engineless, just starlight in our small 32 m world alone in the ocean
No mirrors or wifi for egos and vanity
Self-reflection here on a grander scale
Bunts and clew-ing
Olden rum-run living
Care and nuture giving
We are now a week on the eastward crossing. We are heading to Europe. Sailing across the Atlantic. From Boca Chica we were heading straight into the Mona passage with huge waves, which made us a wet welcome on the great ocean. The boat was healing deep into the water at the realign. Our socks were soaked and the boots felt like little lakes.
But we kept going. We were motivated to solve this difficult area and were looking forward to the wide ocean. For a few days, we are now surrounded by miles of water – the Atlantic ocean. The weather cleared up and we can finally dry our clothes. Life is nice but sometimes every little thing is a competition on board. If your environment is shrunk by some cargo. I just came out of the foxhole. It is noon and time for lunch. Today our cook serves a quiche with vegetables and a nice salad. But suddenly everything changed.
I was on the way to the aft for the watch change, as the captain shouted “man over board”!
The mood on board suddenly switched from smiles in the faces of our crew to concentrated focused views in their mime. The MOB shout is the nightmare of every sails-man. Each officer is getting a shock of adrenalin with a little heart attack.
Who is it?
The scared trainees gathered on the aft. Our fearless cook climbed on the galley roof and pointed towards the one together with Anna, a courageous trainee. The course got clewed up and we tacked the boat around. While the starboard deckhand made the dinghy ready. I ran to some live rings to throw them. Wiebe, the captain, stood on the helm and gave the commands to each one. We braced around.
Soon the dinghy was dowsed into the ocean. First Mate Paul jumped straight to the engine and started it. His strong arms pulled the starter so good, that it started straight away. With Martin on-board they paced over the waves towards where the spotters where pointing. The captain shouted commands through the VHF. Everyone can hear what is going on. On board everything got prepared for the arriving of the missing one. Blankets and towels have been brought on deck.
They found it!
Soon the dinghy drivers were replying “we have it”! The lost one was a fender and everyone’s fear was released. Nobody was missed today. It was a drill. The most important one. We are training the Man over board, the Flooding, the Fire and the Abandon Ship Case. But this drill reminds us all on rule number one: “stay on board”! Which means both feet stay on deck. No running and if the weather is rough like at the Mona Passage we keep on hooked in, on our safety lines and stays. It reminds us all how difficult it is in hard weather conditions to find a person in the water and bring her back.
For this day everything went well and we learned a lot from this situation. After we continued with our watch-system.
We zijn weer terug op de oceaan, na meer dan drie maanden, vier eilanden, een continent tientallen tonnen Cacao en koffie, vaten vol rum laden, gedag zeggen tegen bemanning, vrienden, hallo zeggen tegen nieuwe vrienden, na niet kunnen slapen van de hitte, onstuimige winden in Colombia, windstilte achter St. Vincent, ontmoetingen met oude smokkelzeilkapiteinen, tientallen keren zeil zetten en weer weghalen, na wandelingen over verlaten stranden, een weg zoekende door overvolle toeristische plekken, na bellen met thuis, na veel heimwee maar ook een intens geluk gecombineerd, was het tijd de oceaan op weer over te steken. Het ruim, de bemanningsverblijven, alles aan boord van de Tres Hombres ligt vol met vracht voor Amsterdam.
Na hoog aan de wind onder de Dominicaanse Republiek weggekomen te zijn, kruisend door de Monapassage waren we vanochtend weer op de oceaan. Weer 5000 meter onder de kiel. De oceaan swell van drie meter op de kop, elke paar minuten een automatische dekwas!
We voelen ons vogelvrij, eindelijk weten we wat het is vogelvrij te zijn. We hebben aan alle kanten van het schip water zo ver je kijkt, we kunnen alle kanten op maar weten ook weer niet waar we kunnen aanleggen. De vrijheid van een vogelvrij verklaarde: met het virus rondspokende in Europa weten we niet waar we straks binnen kunnen varen. We zijn de oceaan op gegaan, gezond en vol goede moed al kan ik erbij zeggen dat het vreemd is niet precies te weten waar we aan zullen komen. Met een motorloos vrachtschip is de tijd al moeilijk in te schatten die je over een oceaanoversteek gaat doen. En nu komt daar nog bij dat de eerste haven ook moeilijk is in te schatten. We varen verder, eerste doel: Horta zoals alle voorgaande jaren. Kunnen we daar over drie a vier weken niet in dan varen we rechtstreeks door naar Europa. Extra water en proviand is gebunkerd, we kunnen desnoods zes weken op zee blijven. Niet dat we dat willen: het liefst zou ik nu bij mijn zwangere vrouw thuis zijn maar als dit het lot is, zullen we niet langer klagen want wat mot, ja dat mot.
Tot nog toe is de oceaan prachtig, gisteren in de Mona Passage hadden we elke wacht zo’n 3 squalls met windshifts en veel regen over. Nu een mooie Noordooster bries (5bft) en zonnig weer, de Tres steigert en rolt er prachtig tegenin. We willen naar het Noorden, ter hoogte van Bermuda hopen we de Westerlies tegen te komen en daarmee naar het Oost Noord Oosten te rollen. Ondertussen is zelfs de ergste zeezieke weer op de been en is iedereen aardig in het ritme. We genieten, de zon, de golven over dek, Galley en zelfs over de roerganger heen; ik lees boeken van Slauerhof en Nescio. Twee oerhollandse schrijvers die mooi over het water en Holland kunnen vertellen. Het water daar zitten we op, holland daar verlang ik naar, al zal ik ook blijven geloven in het leven in het nu: in een wereld die in crisis is zitten we misschien wel op de beste plek. Voor het eerst in jaren is deze manier van transport de snelste manier om van de eilanden naar Nederland te komen (sinds er bijna niet meer gevlogen wordt tussen Carib en Europa). In plaats van te piekeren over virussen kijk ik op het kompas, kan de roerganger nog wat hoger, nog wat meer snelheid uit het schip halen? We zijn op de terugweg en ik heb, hoe mooi dit ook is, haast om begrijpelijke redenen!
It was in the afternoon on Saturday 4th of January when our watch got woken up from our precious sleep half an hour before wake-up time. No explanation, only the message that the captain required our presence on deck immediately. Now, if you finally can sleep for a meager six hours after a tiring double night watch, this half an hour seems like an eternity. You can imagine the look on our faces when we appeared from the Foxhole.
The scene we were treated to on that moment seemed surreal, as if we were still dreaming. The crew had put the dinghy, a small motorboat that normally is stored on deck, overboard and now the captain and some other crew members were driving circles around the ship, taking pictures, screaming like madmen and jumping into the water. The past few days the temperature had been building up slowly and we’d been longing for a refreshing swim between maintenance jobs for a while now. Unfortunately (and fortunately), the ship always has too much speed to be able to do this.
It seemed they had found a very entertaining way to overcome this. I couldn’t wait to get into that boat! When the first group returned, I grabbed my chance and jumped in. While we drove away, swimming was the only thing I could think of at first – until I turned around. There she was, in all her glory, fully rigged with all her sails, as if she came straight out of a kick-ass pirate movie. How different things can look when you change perspective! This had been our home for the past few weeks now, but it was the first time we all could see her how our surroundings see us: simply magnificent. At the same time, it stroke me that the ship somehow looked very small. At that moment, it seemed almost impossible to me that fifteen people could live together for so long on such a small patch of surface. Yet, we do.
Sailing this ship, that patch of surface and the people living on it turn into a world where all the things you knew before seem to disappear into the background. Life becomes beautifully simple: eat, sleep, work, repeat. Everything becomes a group thing, we all depend on each other. The wooden railing becomes the physical border with the only thing that is outside: the ocean. Literally stepping out of that world felt liberating and scary at the same time. Knowing that there is about 4,5 kilometer of water underneath you when you dive in makes you feel very, very tiny. But boy, did we enjoy it! We all returned back to our world soaking wet and with a huge smile on our faces.
We are three weeks on the water now and it won’t be long before we will see land again. I feel unsure if I will enjoy our re-entry in civilization. This world of ropes, sails, wood and steel and the family we made here are growing on me. But I’m sure I’ll adapt again. It’s just a matter of perspective.
We are crossing the Atlantic Ocean from east to west in the moment, which means we are sailing more or less downwind in the Trades, just north of the equator. Stun sails are up, tropical nights the norm and we have at least 3 weeks to find our rhythm. The mood in the crew could not be better, we are deep in the performing phase of group dynamics. The inevitable nitty gritty conflicts bubbling up when living in a community get solved in some way or the other. Last midnight we all watched “Rounding Cape Hoorn” by Irving Johnson, together on top of the chart room during the gained extra hour due to crossing time zones. Pure awe, we are just children playing with a toy compared to the sailors of yore! But enough of that, just be assured: life is great and here nobody cares about Trump. I wanted to write a bit about the Sounds of the Sea.
We are travelling in an engine less ship. Trivial as it is: that means there is no engine, no internal combustion happening to move along. In the modern world we are very used to the constant background noise from fans, equipment or machines — our brain successfully blends them out. So at first you don’t really notice the absence of an engine, but as soon as our generator is running (a regularly necessary evil to power the ships computer and radio) you appreciate the sweet sweet silence. In Santa Cruz de La Palma we visited the Alexander von Humboldt II while she was moored next to us. Beautiful ship, impressive rigging and modern interior. But multiple decks and modern living standards also result in a continuous ventilation humming along. The need for electricity means her engine room is always noisy and her steel hull carries the slight vibrations caused by active machinery as a sign of being alive.
The sounds of sailing on the Tres Hombres are very different and diverse, surely depending on the situation, wind and swell. It ranges from the mighty bellowing of the Mainsail, when big swell and low wind causes it to flap. On the other end of the spectrum you find for example the faint metal clicking of the Forestaysail sheet tackle, located on the Foredeck directly above the Foxhole. There is the regular whirring of the tow generator when it is tailing behind the ship and the swishing of the windmills which in concert with the mute solar panels try to magic up enough electricity so that we do not have to endure the generator too often. Waves rushing along the ship or the ship crashing into waves, the wind howling in the rigging. Crew yelling in excitement when dolphins play under the bowsprit and flying fish suiciding on deck with a confused splash. The *pluuumpscht-ratratratrat* of dropping the anchor, the *prrrrrrrr* of turning the steering wheel or the *chrrrrruut* of a successfully doused Mainstay sail. The chaotically mad symphony of the pots and pans swinging around in the galley, conducted by the ship itself. The sweetest sound of them all is the food-o-clock bell while the sad burbling of an empty coffeepot can ruin the start of your watch.
Wear and tear is the biggest enemy on the ocean, and some chafing also creates a noticeable sound. So it is always good to have a sharp ear to the small and tiny sounds that were not present last night. Try to mentally locate every muttering of the ship while staring up into the night sky. And not to be underestimated is the effect of the low pitched but regular banging and bashing onto the sleep of the other watch below deck. When you lay awake in bunk the tiniest sound from above is amplified by the wooden structure, and can easily rob you of your sleep. You might know where a specific sound is coming from, you might even know which tracing line has to be adjusted in order to silence the damn thing. But finding your headlamp and getting up to fix it yourself is something else. Deck rounds in the night additionally keep you occupied, help passing the time 😉
Sounds I do not miss in the slightest: Lonely TV’s running in the background of a café. The metal-on-metal screeching of the Tram passing by on a busy four lane main road. The nagging *pling* of an incoming Whats App message, begging for attention. I will hear them again, but for now the sounds of silence have to suffice.
Martin Zenzes. Tres Hombres. 2020.
In the vast Atlantic Ocean lies the secret of the strong spirited. A gift available for whom has left shore and all things known. A side of sailing only truly appreciated by those who have seen the other. Without contrasts in life we easily become accustomed to even the most magical things.
We started the crossing 16 days ago. We are now more than half way through.In the meantime, life has completely changed. We went from survival mode to actual living. I mean, literally, our safety nets are now mostly used to hang our clothes to dry.
I feel peace. A peace that derives from the simplicity of life on board and the constant contact with nature. We cook, we clean, we fix, we sail. We sleep, we eat, we talk, we stare. We made it so complex on land. So many worries, so many things abstract. We have become slaves of things thought to free us. Emails, cellphones, property, money. Life here feels more real and concrete. I miss nothing, even having so little. I have a meaningful existence. My meaning is to feed 15 people. Yet this is an oasis, drifting towards shore again. One can’t be in the sea forever, alienated; but one could try to bring this knowledge and the quest for a simple life back home, and remember what was important and what was superfluous. One could look deeper into old habits and dependencies, understand where they come from and maybe brake free.
Happy New Years!
One more day of 2019 and the last one. In the middle of the ocean – a perfect place to look back at the past months, (even years?) of your life. The ocean is a kind of mirror – it shows you the picture of your current spiritual and emotional condition. The measurement device of your soul temperature.
My thermometer says: peace, harmony, freedom, happiness. No boundaries, no worries, no obligations. It is a feeling of pure harmony.
I joined the crew in La Palma. I arrived by plane 2 days before we started for Barbados. Unbelievable – one day before I was still sitting in the office in Berlin, one day before I was still being overloaded by destructive issues of a big city life.
It takes time to start reflecting. It was a little bit disappointing in the beginning: Why I can’t write down immediately the super philosophical enlightenment’s in my diary? The only thing I forced myself to do was at least to document the day (and night -:) routine on the ship and the new impressions like flying fishes, dolphins and hundreds of falling stars.
But then I understood – it takes time. First you need to sort out and empty your “brain wardrobe”, your “brain cellar”. You need to throw away all the trash you have accumulated through mass media, through hundreds of adverts-banners in the metro, through tons of forced useless small talks about nothing, through dozens of every day worries and appointments… The list of things which brings you away from yourself is very long.
I am done with the list and I threw it away.
Happy New Year to all of you!
P.S. Cnm, our plan seems to work! We have a good speed! Te quiero!
Yesterday the 24th, after a fantastic pizza lunch all together in the sun on deck we decided to gibe.
We where sailing 50 miles west of Santo Antao and did 195* over ground. I said to Adam and his port side watch: you organize, I will run around, pull some ropes and our cook Soraia is at the helm. And there we went: Gaff top sail down, brace square, get the main in the middle, get the bob’s, flying and outer jib to the other side, give a new course to steer to Soraia, brace again and fine tune everything. Set the gaff topsail and after that Jeroen, Laura and me could continue with preparing to set the stun sails. One hour later we where sailing with the stun sails up, the rum banner under the course, all square sails, flying and outer jib, upper bob, mainstay, main and gaff topsail. Whiehaaa 6,8 knots again: new course: 250: straight to Barbados!
Around 5 o clock we did see the first movement in the water: there where around 8 whales coming from the North, joining us for 20 minutes and after that the ocean was full of dolphins. And when I say full, I mean really full: around 60 dolphins where playing around the Tres Hombres. Both watches where watching them, climbing in the mast, climbing under the bowsprit, making photo’s, making sounds. This is now already one of the best Christmas we ever had. Today we have a big lunch altogether in the sun, all sails up, I smell already some chocolate cake from the galley.
all the best from a happy captain